Wednesday, April 6, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Ambedkar, Gandhi and Justice (not as yet published)


April is the month when Ambedkar was born, and it is time to revisit development paradigms from both Ambedkar (less known) and Gandhian lens (better known).

The UNDP web page on Millennium Development Goal states "Goal of cutting in half the proportion of people in the developing world living on less than $1 a day by 2015 remains within reach. However, this achievement will be due largely to extraordinary economic success in most of Asia. In contrast, previous estimates suggest that little progress was made in reducing extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. In Western Asia, poverty rates were relatively low but increasing. And the transition economies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and South-Eastern Europe were still recovering from the rise in poverty in the early 1990s" (UNDP, nd. Are we on track to meet the MDGs by 2015?,

But are the path ways to growth followed by Asia just and sustainable across generations? China and India are growing fast, but as pointed out by Kemal Dervis (Dervis, nd. Unique Economic Growth in India and China, the pathways to growth adopted in China are leading to massive disparities between urban and rural sectors, and in India to a spate of farmer suicides ('_suicides_in_India). One could add suicides of weavers, dalits, landless households and poor women who have borrowed from profit oriented micro finance institutions ( The phenomenon of increase in missing girls in both countries (with spread of dowry as a strategy for equalization and combating poverty by households with sons) needs to be looked in this larger context. The rate at which agriculture land is being converted for other purposes is high in both countries, as well as usurpation of nature for corporate interest and elite consumption. There is tremendous restlessness amongst the 36.3% in China living in less than $2 per day (PPP) and 75.6% Indians living with less than $2 per day as of 2005 ( The failure is not just of these two countries, but global neo-liberal model of development. One does not want a pathway of development where MDG 1 of Eradicating Poverty is achieved by eliminating the poor and socially marginalized groups and but by effective poverty reduction.

Post collapse of USSR there is a crisis in development theory. As observed by Dervis, one needs to go beyond unfettered capitalism and communism and look for non violent solutions to just poverty reduction. While Gandhi's concept of non violence, Swaraj (people's self rule) and trusteeship (people are trustees of what they own, and beyond that meet the needs of the poor) are globally relevant, history has proved that it needs to be combined with ideas of Ambedkar, wherein he asked for separate electorate for the marginalized so that they could constitute the majority in Parliament, land to be distributed to dalits, and other landless household (with equal rights to women), questioned casteism, patriarchy, and anti minority sentiments and converted to Budhism (not that it is fool proof today, but at that time looked just) and raised the concept of Dominion (see Penguin, 2010, Words of Freedom: ideas of a Nation B.R Ambedkar, Penguin, New Delhi). He observed that in a Dominion the government cannot step in when constitutional government has failed to maintain law and order. If he was alive today, probably he would say that the uprisings that we see in India and quelled in China are not just a result of state failure but inter-state institutional failure too (in particular the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation, global public-private partnerships and and I would say even the UN for it has not put in place mechanisms to make these interstate organizations accountable). In fact, the UN Security Council structure itself would look different if low income and lower middle income countries had a greater say (in particular those who have followed just pathways to poverty reduction and eradicating injustices) and oppressed were called for UN-NG0 meetings in equal numbers with NGOs who represent them.

Ambedkar saw the inter-connection between the culture, economic and political subordination of dalits, tribals, women, minorities and laboring class in India. Let us combine his concept, with that of non-violence, Swaraj (self governance), and trusteeship of Gandhi and move development debates beyond capitalism and communism. Self governance without addressing the material and cultural basis of subordination of oppressed groups is pointless as was revealed in a public hearing of women and men local government leaders by a coalition of organizations in Tamil Nadu, wherein even when dalits were majority in self governance institutions, dalits were proxies for upper caste on whom they were dependent for livelihood, centuries of caste hierarchies prevailed and dalit women where proxies for dalit and upper caste men. At the same time Gandhi's concept of trusteeship is extremely relevant if the paths followed are not to be violent. Gandhi believed that those who own money now should behave like trustees holding their riches on behalf of the poor. As observed by the organization Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya trusteeship is not just a legal fiction. If rich people in the world meditate over it constantly and try to act up to it, then life on earth would be governed far more by love than it is at present ( One could add rich nations too. Are they acting non-violently, in trusteeship and following Ambedkar's paradigm? Are they leaving things for next generation not only in their own countries, but their investments and invasions on developing world?

Ranjani Kamala Murthy

PS my article on mental health is in public domain

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